If you have experienced childhood trauma, you can speak with a Blue Knot Helpline trauma counsellor including for support and applications around national redress

1300 657 380
Monday - Sunday
between 9am - 5pm AEST
or via email helpline@blueknot.org.au


Do you live with disability?  Have you experienced abuse, neglect, violence or exploitation? 

For support for Disability Royal Commission or general support contact our National Counselling & Referral Service

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March 2021Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via eMail Share on LinkedIn

From the Editor

In recent weeks we have witnessed a turning point in bringing the issues of sexual assault, gender equality and accountability to the fore.  For too long survivors have remained silent or have been ignored when they have tried to speak.  For many the shame and fear and the burden of not being believed, not being supported, and the real possibility of losing their job and other opportunities have kept them silent.  

That burden has often been overwhelming but now with the groundswell of public outrage, many survivors are coming forward and telling their story.  Their voices and those of others supporting them are getting louder and are demanding change.  But we need these changes to occur systemically and culturally and throughout all levels of society: in our homes, schools, workplaces and even in politics.

Our lead article this month focuses on this issue.  It delves into the impacts of sexual assault on survivors, and complexities around consent, navigating current societal perceptions, the justice system and disclosure.  It talks about the inherent struggle for survivors in telling their story, and the self-blame that is common when issues around consent are blurred.  It is not straightforward, and many survivors carry this burden for a long time. But there is help and hope.

We share some resources in this edition of Breaking Free including our newly released fact sheet around Coping Strategies.  We have also included a link to our publication Talking about Trauma: Guide to Everyday Conversations with the General Public.  This publication from our Talking about Trauma series can help support and guide safe trauma conversations, and inform an understanding on the ways in which people cope with trauma.  These resources are free to download, and we invite you share them with others who may also find them useful as well.  We have many more resources on our website www.blueknot.org.au which we may also help.

As always, the Blue Knot Helpline is available should you need to speak to a trauma specialist counsellor for support.  They are highly trained and trauma-informed.  They can be contacted on 1300 657 380, 9am – 5pm Monday to Sunday AEST. 

Until next time, take care.

The Blue Knot Team

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Panel Discussion: Complex Trauma in Multicultural Communities


This conversation about complex trauma in multicultural communities was held during Cultural Diversity Week, a Victorian celebration of multicultural communities. It features Blue Knot Foundation President, Dr. Cathy Kezelman together with Rida Aleem Khan, its multicultural Ambassador. Special guests on the panel were Dr. Judy Tang, Victorian Multicultural Commissioner and Jude Eadie, Founder and CEO of Global Youth Mental Health Awareness. 

Together these leaders in complex trauma, mental health and multicultural communities explore opportunities to work together to raise awareness and possibilities for support around people experiencing repeated violence abuse, neglect, as a child, young person or adult in multicultural communities.  

Rida Aleem Khan, a multicultural and youth advocate was crowned winner of Miss South Asia Australia Miss Community pageant 2020 and this year she is a finalist in Miss Diamond International Australia, both in recognition of her community work. As part of the Miss Diamond International Australia competition, Rida is fundraising for Blue Knot Foundation to extend its work into multicultural communities. 

Survivor Contribution

I Was Born Into Captivity

I was born into captivity,
with wild beasts for my keepers.
They were unable to abide me,
unable to rise to their responsibilities.
Themselves isolated in their cage,
they isolated me further.
No-one came to look through the bars
as they tormented me.
There were no visitors to this
particular zoo of relentless assaults.
And now I cannot abide to see
any bird or other animal trapped in a cage.
Helpless. Unable to move.
Its body bruised and spirit crushed.
Because I know that,
even if it breaks free,
it carries the wounds of its confinement
forever, inside its beaten body and soul.
And forever it will fly or limp on the outside
of the flock, 
of the herd,
easy pickings for predators. 


Victim Impact Statement

You damaged me irretrievably

You stole any possibility of my feeling safe, contented, warmed, loved, wanted, precious 

You condemned me to a lifetime of isolation and loneliness

You deprived me of human touch and acceptance

You made me feel I was living in a war zone - hungry, thirsty, frightened 

And you did it with malice aforethought

You were evil

- Robyn


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2021 ISSTD Webinar Series
Dissociative Identity Disorder Awareness Day


On 4th March, Blue Knot Foundation President Dr Cathy Kezelman joined presenters from ISSTD, an Infinite Mind and Beauty After Bruises for a DID Awareness Day Webinar.  The webinar was a huge success, and may be viewed here on YouTube.


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Victoria's truth and justice commission must offer trauma support, assembly member says

The commissioners appointed to Victoria’s truth and justice commission will need “a really grounded understanding in trauma” and to offer victim support similar to the royal commission into child sexual abuse in order to gain the trust of Aboriginal Victorians, a member of the treaty assembly has said. Read more


Sexual assault victims can easily be re-traumatised going to court — here’s one way to stop this

If victims can be assured their privacy and interests will be protected, they might be more inclined to report and/or stay engaged in the criminal justice system. Having a lawyer present at trial may also decrease victims’ feelings of stress and anxiety and improve their confidence when testifying. Read more

Questioning of sexual assault victims during trials 'worse' than in the 1950s, criminologist finds

Trigger warning: sexual assault 
Andy Kaladelfos wants to see a "wholesale re-examination" of how sexual assault trials are run. Read more

Almost 90% of sexual assault victims do not go to police — this is how we can achieve justice for survivors

Trigger warning: sexual assault
Once again, it highlighted the huge barriers to justice faced by victims of sexual assault. Read more

Scott Morrison embroiled in row with News Corp after being accused of 'weaponising' complaint claim minutes after fighting back tears

The Prime Minister became emotional as he pledged to improve outcomes for women in Australia. Read more

Advocates dismayed after government further delays urgent privacy reforms for disability royal commission witnesses

Labor, the Greens, and disability advocates have called for greater privacy safeguards for disability royal commission witnesses to be passed urgently amid fears key whistleblowers are opting not to come forward. Read more

Sydney's March 4 Justice sees Indigenous women rise up and speak their truth

Marie Barbaric revealed publicly for the first time that she was a survivor of institutional sexual abuse at Monday's march. Read more

‘Urgent’ extension to disability inquiry 'ignored' by Morrison and Porter for four months

Government yet to respond to two letters from the royal commission’s chair requesting extension to the inquiry. Read more

Crikey's malicious attempt to discredit victim in Porter rape allegation

Trigger warning: sexual assault
Crikey has published an inaccurate article to cast doubt on the alleged rape victim’s account in the rape allegations against Attorney-General Porter. Read more

Ex-Victorian MP says sexual harassment culture has not changed in 40 years

A former Victorian Liberal MP, now living on the New South Wales north coast, says little has changed in the past 40 years in regard to workplace harassment in politics. Read more

Sex discrimination commissioner says Australia at 'turning point' on sexual harassment and assault

Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins says she believes Australia is now “at a turning point” in the public conversation about sexual harassment and assault, emphasising the need for “victim-centric” approaches and responses. Read more

'Share your truth, it is your power': Grace Tame’s address to the National Press Club

The 2021 Australian of the year and sexual assault survivor says ‘we are on the precipice of a revolution’. Read more


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Sexual assault in the news

* Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault

Sexual assault and child sexual assault are far more common than our community has been prepared to acknowledge. They occur most commonly in the home and family when secrecy, ready access and dependence on the perpetrator often mean that these crimes continue unabated. Sexual assault is also far too common in the workplace as is currently being highlighted. 

The women’s March 4 Justice on March 15th was an Australia-wide protest against sexism and gendered violence, supported by thousands of people. With Brittany Higgins, who has spoken out about alleged crimes in Parliament House addressing the rally in Canberra and Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, child sexual abuse survivor speaking in Tasmania the message was powerful, united and consistent. Sexual assault is never acceptable, anywhere or any time, and action is needed to ensure due process and accountability, regardless of who is implicated. 

The reality is that many survivors struggle to disclose their experiences, and, as a result of the shame and self-blame, which survivors so often carry, silence themselves. Others, when attempting to disclose, either as a child, young person or adult, have been dismissed, or had their concerns minimised or denied. The present collective action aside, as a society we have historically been reluctant to acknowledge the scourge of sexual assault. 

While sexual assault is more common amongst women, girls, transgender and non-binary people boys and men are also victims. This is often unacknowledged and the stigma for men and boys including gender norms, and pervasive shame makes speaking out very challenging. While perpetrators are most often men and young men, they can also be women and girls. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse evidenced more victims were male. 

These are serious crimes – abuses of power, betrayals of trust and violations of personal boundaries. They are often also secret crimes, in which victims are often blamed and perpetrators given the benefit of the doubt. Sexual assault is generally about power and coercion. It is not about sex but rather about sex being weaponised.

Power imbalances and the blurring of workplace boundaries can create the dynamics in which the need for consent is annihilated, accountability absent and cover-up, victim blaming, secrecy and lies common. There has been a lot of stigma in our society around sexual assault, which feeds into the self-blame victims often experience. Retaliation against people speaking out against sexual harassment and victimisation in the workplace has been not uncommon. Myths around sexual assault contribute to victim blaming and a social fabric in which sexual assault becomes tacitly excusable. 

Issues of consent are poorly understood. A person who is sleeping, intoxicated, cognitively impaired, or a young child, without the language or level of development cannot give consent. In these situations, the person is not able to say ‘no’ but nor can they say ‘yes’ or give consent. The right to sex cannot be assumed or snatched. It requires active and definitive permission.

Sexual assault is a crime in which there are usually no witnesses. The reality is that false reports of sexual assault are rare. Many sexual assaults go unreported or stay undisclosed for a long time. This can mean a lack of physical evidence and a questioning of the motives of the alleged victim, in not coming forward immediately. Delayed reporting makes sense. If the person was a child, dependent on the perpetrator, and with no one to trust, the child has often been threatened into silence, and groomed into compliance. Others victims are sexually assaulted as adults by partners, spouses, ex-partners, friends – adding another layer of shame and confusion. Shame, self-blame and victim blaming are additionally silencing.

There have been a number of high-profile abusers e.g. Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein where many victims have progressively come forward, with each new person speaking out ‘giving permission’ for others. It has been a time of the #Metoo, End Rape on Campus, #Let Her speak driving significant social change. Speaking out against power, hierarchy, influence, societal judgement and internal shame and self-blame take incredible courage. Understandably it is not something all victims can do. It is very challenging and requires a lot of support. It is about choice as well and not everyone chooses to speak out either. 

Many victims blame themselves for not fighting back and stopping the assault. But in situations of terror the body often goes into freeze mode, unable to move or speak let alone fight or flee. Very often people’s experiences are minimised, both by themselves but also by others. “It wasn’t that bad.” “Others had it worse.” “It was only once.”  Victim blaming must stop. It is time for us all to stand up and say that this is simply not acceptable – ever!

Not being believed or further marginalised in society all make paths to justice and recovery so much harder. While recovery is possible, many victims/survivors struggle to trust enough and be safe enough or have the resources to seek help and support to help them heal. Therapy and counselling can help many victims to cope and feel less overwhelmed and fearful. That said therapy is not for everyone. There are many paths to recovery including EMDR, meditation, yoga, mindfulness, art therapy, drumming etc. Recovery can take time, but the support of friends and family are also critical. Being believed is bottom line and having a society which is more compassionate is the first step to reducing the stigma that sabotages healing and costs lives. Thank you to those who are so publicly saying :”Enough is enough.”

New Fact Sheet

Coping Strategies


The recent stories in the media have brought more attention to sexual abuse, and many survivors are finding it challenging as their capacity to cope is overwhelmed.  We have developed a new fact sheet which outlines how people use coping strategies when faced with these challenges.  The fact sheet is useful for survivors, as well as others, to help better understanding how some coping strategies can have an impact on their behaviours in daily life.

Download the fact sheet here

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How to cope with increased media reporting around sexual assault

*Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault

While the publication and dissemination of stories and survivor experiences help to ‘break the silence’ and secrecy around sexual assault, doing so can also raise a lot of issues for many, especially for survivors. Given the recent March 4 justice and high-profile campaigns there have been a lot of reports in the media and accompanying commentary. 

Reading sexual assault reports and commentary can bring past traumatic experiences and feelings to the surface. At times, it can threaten to overwhelm us. This is completely understandable for us all but especially for people who have experienced their own abuse or other traumas. To help support you to manage the possible negative effects of media reporting about abuse or trauma, we thought it might be helpful to include the following tips from our Blue Knot Helpline counsellors. We hope some of the self-care and other strategies might be of help.

Firstly, what is a trigger? For survivors, triggers are anything in their daily life that reminds them of prior abuse, violence or trauma. While sometimes a survivor can connect the trigger what they experienced but at other times the connection is not so obvious. The person may experience bad and upsetting feelings reacting to something in the present, but without understanding where their reaction comes from.

If the person is unable to connect their present reactions to a past situation or events they may feel as though they are going ‘crazy’ or that something is wrong with them. This can be scary and confusing and can lead to feelings of fear, anxiety and shame, emotional numbing, social withdrawal, nightmares, eating problems, self-harm and suicidal ideation. If this happens to you, it is important to remember that you are not going ‘crazy’ but that you are experiencing a “normal response to abnormal events.”

If you have been ‘triggered’ by a story or an event in the media, consider the following suggestions to see what might help you feel more grounded:

• Stop what you are doing and try to tune into what is happening in your body and/or mind. See if you can identify the trigger.

• Pay attention to your senses – to images, smells, tastes, sounds and tactile experiences that remind you or your body of the original traumatic experience. Can you see a connection between the present event and past experiences?

• Remember to breathe and stay connected to your body. Focus on calming yourself. Tell yourself some reassuring things. Check that you are taking slow and deep breaths. Relax your body. Do whatever works for you.

• Reconnect with the present moment. Make an effort to notice what is around you, touch things, notice smells, and see where you are and who you are with.

• Remind yourself that what you are doing and experiencing now is different to what happened during your abuse or other distressing experience.

• Create a safe area in your home – a place you can go when you are feeling frightened or upset. Make an agreement with yourself that you will stay in that space until the feeling passes, one breath at a time. You may also set up objects in your safe area that calm and soothe you. Your safe space may be at a window seat, in your bed or in a comfortable chair.

• It is important to know that you do have a choice and that it is OK to switch the television off or to avoid reading the newspaper and scrolling through social media. You may decide to limit your exposure to the news or to avoid it altogether particularly if you are already feeling overwhelmed.

• Find a trusted person to talk to. It may be a relative, friend or neighbour or consider speaking to a trauma-informed counsellor on the Blue Knot Helpline by calling 1300 657 380 9am – 5pm Monday to Sunday AEST. The counsellor can support you to help you identify and understand your possible triggers, to feel safe and develop additional ways of coping. They can also help you with a referral for ongoing support if you feel you want or need it.

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Restoring Hope are looking for men to share their story

Talking About Trauma

As survivors are increasingly coming forward to tell their story, members of the general public are becoming more aware of the prevalence of trauma and how it can affect people. However, many people feel poorly equipped to have everyday conversations with people they know or suspect have actually experienced trauma.

Talking About Trauma: Guide to Everyday Conversations for the General Public provides a simple guide, in plain English, to support these critical conversations. Whether you are starting the conversation yourself (because you suspect a person is experiencing/has experienced trauma) or you are responding to a person telling you about their trauma. The information, evidence and tips contained within the guide will help you manage the challenges and minimise the risks. 


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Congratulations to Blue Knot President, Dr Cathy Kezelman AM

Finalist in the Pro Bono Impact 25 Awards

The Impact 25 Awards were launched in 2014 to create a platform for those in the sector to celebrate their peers.  Since then, Impact 25 has grown into an esteemed accolade, recognising the most influential people in the Australian social sector, as voted by their peers.

We are delighted and proud to announce that Blue Knot Foundation President, Dr Cathy Kezelman has been recognised as a top 25 finalist from a shortlist of 150 nominees in the sector.  The awards are open to all those engaging across the social economy: from charities and not for profits, philanthropists, social enterprises, impact investors and corporates looking to do good.

Some of Australia’s best-known CEOs, politicians, advocates and innovators, along with students and refugees, have been recognised in previous years for their influence on a sector that employs over one million people.

We congratulate Cathy on this distinguished award and recognition.

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Berated and beaten: At 66, Steve still lives with the scars of his cruel, abusive mother.

Originally published by Mamamia 

*The subject of this article is known to Mamamia, but has chosen to remain anonymous.

Warning: the following details instances of child abuse and may be triggering to some readers.

As Blue Knot Foundation National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma notes, unresolved childhood trauma negatively impacts emotional and physical wellbeing in adulthood. 

Survivors can experience a range of issues including anxiety, depression, health problems, disconnection, isolation, confusion, being 'spaced out', and fear of intimacy and new experiences. "There is no 'one-size-fits-all’, but reduced quality of life is a constant," the foundation states.

'We need to be heard unconditionally': Aden's story of healing and recovery


Trigger warning: child sex abuse

Article originally published in 9Honey

Aden Hemmerling's story, like so many others, is an important one.

After surviving childhood sexual abuse and embarking on years of gruelling, trauma-related recovery as a result, Aden has dedicated his life to helping others and wants to use his experiences to instil hope.

With a passion for human rights, Aden lives by the mantra that everybody has a story. Now, he celebrates his own story of healing, and calls on all of us to break the pervasive stigma that is still so stubbornly attached to abuse.

Disclaimer - Blue Knot Foundation makes every effort to provide readers of its website and newsletters with information which is accurate and helpful. It is not however a substitute for counselling or professional advice. While all attempts have been made to verify all information provided, Blue Knot Foundation cannot guarantee and does not assume any responsibility for currency, errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the information provided.